Have you seen the bumper sticker that says “Question Authority?” One thing is for sure— now’s the time to question conventional wisdom with respect to marketing A/E and environmental consulting services. Many of the experts both inside and outside of A/E, consulting engineering, and environmental firms (those who have read all of the latest management books) are perpetuating falsehoods about marketing for our industry. Following are ten of these frequently heard marketing myths that needed clearing up: Specialized firms are hit hardest when the market they serve declines. On the surface, this seems logical. If an A/E or environmental firm is dependent on one market (market referring to a specific group of clients, not a technology or technical discipline area), why wouldn’t they suffer right along with their market? One reason is that they will anticipate what is happening to their market before those who just dabble in it. Whether that means early warning to find a new specialty, or the know-how to develop new services, pricing structures, and distribution channels for this same market, they’ll react faster and better. Marketing people are supposed to sell. Part of the confusion over this subject lies in a misunderstanding about what marketing really means. There may be business development or sales people who sell (both business development and sales are subsets of the broader subject of marketing), but there are more marketing people who don’t. And because of that, don’t think they aren’t important. Marketing in our business requires teamwork. Although clients, by and large, want to deal with the technical people who can solve their problem, marketing people can get the phone ringing and then help the sellers close. It takes seven (or five, or six, or eight) contacts to make a sale. This is just plain false. I have personally made a sale on the first or second contact, on a number of occasions. These kinds of statistics are cooked up by people who want an excuse for their poor performance in a selling role. You have to make cold calls to be successful. The most successful people in this business never make a cold call. They don’t have to. Their phone rings and they respond. Smart A/E and environmental consulting firms are investing in the things that make their phones ring, like a good database, direct mail, market research, new services and industry-specific P.R., not putting all of their money and time into trying to get expensive professional and technical people to make largely ineffective cold calls. You have to have done “X” number of similar projects to get a job. If this was true, how does any firm ever get off the ground? Somebody has to be first. If you can convey to the client that you understand his or her needs better than anyone else, and you won’t be learning at the client’s expense, costing more money, or causing any headaches, they’ll hire you without bushel baskets of similar projects in your history. Being a “TQM” firm gives you a selling advantage. The U.S. A/E and consulting engineering industry has always been behind big business. And it’s not because we’re slow or stupid, but because we’re fractionated. We don’t have one primary source for information on these subjects, so things take longer to filter down to us. Many other businesses (i.e. manufacturers, process industries, high tech firms— even some government entities) have already been through TQM. It came after the last new management religion that their leaders forced on them, and has today been replaced by corporate re-engineering and the total solution (complete integration of all systems). No one could argue with the main tenets of TQM. But because it has already been tried and failed in so many of our clients’ organizations, those clients may actually be laughing at your wide-eyed zeal for TQM. Proposal covers should be standardized. Thousands of things need standardization in our firms, but this is the one that we actually do? Don’t give every client the same old boring proposal cover. Be different, be bold. Make your proposals stand out, not blend in with the 200 or so others that the client may get. Newsletters should only go out quarterly. Trying to do them more frequently makes it too difficult for your technical people to keep up with the demand for articles. Plus it’s too expensive. Baloney! Many of the newsletters we see share the same problems. They’re aimed at no one industry in particular. They’re expensive to print because they are too long and use color photography. And they do little more than brag about past projects with long, overly technical treatises, or list who was promoted to senior associate. Firms should cut the length, increase the frequency, and get rid of the floss and gloss. Also, instead of using technical people to write articles on projects, get a writer to interview clients, potential clients, and regulatory officials who have something to offer one specific, targeted audience. Every firm could benefit from becoming more proactive in their marketing. Wrong. If you can’t close the opportunities that are already coming your way, why create more (that you won’t close anyway)? Maybe the sales problem comes from not reacting properly, and the firm, because it has limited resources, should be more reactive. A good brochure is important to your marketing. The last thing most firms should do is spend time and money on a brochure. The typical firm (especially those with more than one owner) takes from two to five years to do a brochure! And when it’s done, it gets mailed to their Christmas card list (because the firm won’t spend money on a client database), which by and large is made up of the firm’s suppliers and competitors. Clients who get the brochure throw it in a file never to be looked at again, or worse, in the trash. Let’s all start to question the authority of those preaching the same old tired marketing gospel for our industry, and act accordingly. Originally published 12/15/1993
About Zweig Group
Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.
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